On September 30, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed California Senate Bill 973 into law as Government Code Title 2, Division 3, Part 2.8, Chapter 10, § 12999. The bill authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara) is titled “Employers: annual report: pay data,” and it states that while “progress [has been] made in California in recent years to strengthen California’s equal pay laws,” there is still a significant gender pay gap and for women of color that pay gap is greater. To address these pay issues, the California Government Code’s new section 12999 requires pay data reports from covered employers and delegates additional powers to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing relating to the new pay data reporting requirement. Section 12999 requires covered employers to file pay data reports no later than March 31, 2021, and on or before every March 31 thereafter.
Despite all that is going on in the world, the California legislature has been busy this year. Below is a summary of the major employment law bills that are working their way through the state Assembly and Senate.
Recently, some employers in California have turned to flexible work arrangements and unlimited paid vacation policies as a tool for recruiting and retaining employees. Before April 2020, however, no California court had addressed whether a nonaccrual, unlimited paid time-off policy was subject to Labor Code Section 227.3, thereby requiring an employer to pay out vested vacation time at the time of an employee’s discharge. Although the California Court of Appeal somewhat sidestepped the issue, its recent decision in McPherson v. EF Intercultural Foundation, Inc., No. B290868 (April 1, 2020), highlighted the potential exposure California employers may face when offering “unlimited” vacation policies that are not clearly communicated to employees. This decision is of particular interest to employers with “unlimited” vacation policies that may be facing substantial vacation payouts in light of terminations, layoffs, and furloughs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On February 27, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Rizo v. Yovino, (again) found that salary history is not a “factor other than sex” that can justify a pay disparity in defense of a claim under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA). The Ninth Circuit made the same finding in 2018, but the Supreme Court of the United States remanded the case because the judge who authored the original opinion died before it was published.
Currently, certain employers are required under federal law to file annual Employer Information Reports (EEO-1) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These EEO-1s must contain data regarding demographics of the employer’s workforce. Accordingly, employers covered by federal EEO-1 reporting requirements were required to file EEO-1 Component 1 data from 2018 by May 31, 2019, and must still submit Component 2 EEO-1 (pay and hours worked) data for their workforces by September 30, 2019. Not to be outdone, the State of California is poised to impose a similar requirement on employers.
The California State Senate and Assembly have been busy this year, moving a number of employment law bills through the legislative process. May 31, 2019, was the deadline for either the assembly or the senate to pass a bill and send it to the other house. A few employment-related bills failed to advance, but there are still a dozen major bills marching forward.
On February 25, 2019, in a much awaited decision, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a per curiam ruling in Yovino v. Rizo, No. 18-272, 586 U.S. ___ (2019). Rather than address the substantive issue of whether an employer may rely on salary history to establish starting pay under the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA), the Court vacated and remanded the matter on a procedural—yet still important—issue.
California’s pay equity law has been amended to clarify certain ambiguities regarding proper interview questions, disclosure of pay scales, and the application of the law to existing employees.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Rizo v. Yovino, No. 16-15372 (April 9, 2018). In this high-profile case, the court held that “prior salary alone or in combination with other factors cannot justify a wage differential” between male and female employees.
Like a pride of lions flashing teeth and fangs, the California legislature is on the hunt in 2018. As has become an annual spring ritual, Sacramento politicians have once again proposed a progressive labor agenda.
California is a state of pioneers. It is in the vanguard of new legislation, often adopted later by other states. It is also known for its financial ventures into new technologies and research—ventures in amounts greater than the next 10 states combined. In 2018, California’s legal and investment landscapes will likely be blazing the same trail on issues of sexual harassment and gender inequality in the workplace.